Catching up on my T.V. time has left me with a question – is public breastfeeding a feminist issue? There is a deleted scene from the 3rd season of The Office that attempts to establish a new character as being likable when she snaps “no one wants to see your udder” at a woman using a breast pump in the office common space. A television character expressing revulsion or disdain at the sight of a woman using a breast pump is a rather common gag in recent comedies – both Fox’s The Loop and NBC’s Friends had similar “funny” quips as characters express disgust at the sight of women using breast pumps. Yet, while I can understand surprise or even curiosity at the sight of a breastfeeding mother or a woman using a breast pump, the fact that revulsion at such a basic act of motherhood seems to be our societal norm strikes me as, well, a bit misogynistic. On the other hand, our society has sexualized breasts so much that the sight of a mother nursing in public might be shocking to many people. While public breastfeeding is legal in the States, we do have laws defining the revealing one’s breasts in public as indecent exposure, so it is not surprising that people see public nursing as flirting uncomfortably with a cultural taboo. So, should we be campaigning to make nursing in public more acceptable? Should restaurants that ask mothers not to nurse in public be boycotted? Or is it acceptable to ask that women seek the privacy of a restroom before nursing or using a breast pump?
UPDATE: Not surprisingly, I'm not the only one who has noticed some sexism in our nation's attitudes towards breasts and breastfeeding. Yet, I had no idea that this was such a well publicized heated debate right now. Apparently, this debate is being held not only here at SI, but across the nation at nurse-ins being staged in protest of an Applebee's restaurant insisting that a woman either cover her nursing baby with a blanket or leave the establishment.